Australia theme park defends safety standards after deaths

Members of the public react as they leave floral tributes outside the main entrance to Dreamworld located on the Gold Coast, Australia, October 27, 2016 after Tuesday's tragedy that saw four people killed on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Australia's biggest theme park.
PHOTO: Reuters

SYDNEY - An Australian theme park defended its safety standards Thursday following the deaths of four people on a malfunctioning ride, while admitting it had not been in touch with grieving relatives of those killed.

Two women and two men died when rafts on the Thunder River Rapids ride at the hugely popular Dreamworld tourist attraction on the Gold Coast collided Tuesday, tipping one backwards and crushing or drowning those on board.

A boy and a girl, aged 10 and 12, on the six-person raft miraculously survived the tragedy.

The Australian Workers Union said it had voiced concerns about the operation and maintenance of some equipment at Dreamworld last year, while media reports claimed to have uncovered safety mishaps.

The Sydney Morning Herald alleged the rapids ride had malfunctioned twice in three days recently, while The Australian reported mechanical problems just hours before the accident.

4 dead after river raft attraction malfunctioned at Australia's Dreamworld

  • Forensic police were examining a river rapids ride at Australia's biggest theme park on Wednesday (Oct 26) after four people were killed when it apparently malfunctioned and they were trapped beneath an upturned raft.
  • Tuesday's (Oct 25) tragedy at the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast in the state of Queensland ranks among the world's deadliest theme park accidents.
  • "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those whose lives were lost in this terrible accident," Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio on Wednesday.
  • Shares in park owner and operator, Ardent Leisure Group , plunged 21 per cent at the open on Wednesday, adding to a 7 per cent fall in the final hour of trading on Tuesday after the accident.
  • The ride, meant to simulate going over river rapids, uses round floating devices that seat six, and can reach speeds of 45kmh.
  • It is described by Dreamworld as a "moderate thrill" attraction for those older than two.
  • A collision between two rafts flipped one, throwing free two girls, aged 10 and 13, and trapping four adults beneath it, Queensland assistant police commissioner Brian Codd told reporters on the Gold Coast.
  • He said the adults became caught in the ride's machinery.
  • The victims, two men aged 33 and 38 and two women aged 32 and 42, all lived in Australia, police said.
  • The New Zealand government confirmed one was a New Zealand citizen. Two children on the ride were being treated for injuries in hospital.
  • Police have not yet confirmed the relationship of the hospitalised children to any of the adults.
  • Local media reported that a brother and sister were among the fatalities.
  • Forensic police and workplace safety authorities, who are also checking CCTV footage, will prepare a report for the state coroner, who will then decide if any charges should be laid.
  • The park will remain closed indefinitely, its operators said.
  • The Australian Workers Union (AWU) said it had raised "grave concerns" about safety at the theme park with authorities and the park operator as early as April 2015.
  • "We did hold some very grave concerns about the safety of equipment and the operation of equipment at that site," AWU state secretary Ben Swan told ABC radio.

Dreamworld said in a statement that safety was its priority, with the Thunder River Rapids ride passing an annual mechanical and structural test on September 29.

"Dreamworld would like to assure the public and park guests that at the time of the incident the park was fully compliant with all required safety certifications," it said.

"All our procedures and systems are constantly benchmarked against international best practice and ride manufacturer specifications.

"Our rides and slides are checked and tested by our experienced team before the park opens every day. If it's not tested, it doesn't open." It added that the park, Australia's biggest, had hosted 30 million people since opening in 1981 and had never seen a death until this week.

Police are conducting an investigation and have said that if there was any criminal negligence, charges would be brought.

Dreamworld's parent company Ardent Leisure held its annual general meeting in Sydney with chief executive Deborah Thomas forced to defend herself after admitting she had yet to speak with the relatives of those killed, saying "we didn't know how to contact them".

A journalist told Thomas the mother of two of the victims was watching her live press conference and had sent the reporter a text message saying she was furious no-one from Ardent had been in touch.

Thomas, who refused to discuss receiving a more than Aus$800,000 (US$610,000) performance bonus this year, replied: "I am very happy to call her very soon after this meeting.

"And on behalf of the staff and management at Ardent and Dreamworld, that our hearts and our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this difficult time," she added.

The park, which has been closed since the incident, was scheduled to reopen for a memorial day on Friday but this was later cancelled on the advice of police who are still conducting their investigation.

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